Speech by Ambassador Wigemark at the International Conference: The research process, documentation and prosecution of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, 11 June 2015


Ms. Munira Subasic, Justice Meron, Prosecutor Brammertz, Mothers of Srebrenica, Ladies and Gentlemen. Good morning.

We live in a world of atrocities, mass killings, and war crimes. This is evident just by looking at daily news headlines. Mankind might have learned something from its past, but it still hasn’t learned enough, obviously. Right now, horrible crimes, war crimes, are committed as we speak in Iraq and Syria, as well as other parts of the world.

This is of course one of the main reasons why we are gathered here today for this conference, supported by the European Union and many other partners. We are here not only to remember, but also to draw lessons for the present and the future.

While I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today as the representative of the European Union here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am very saddened by the fact that the tragic events in this country 20 years ago took place in a European country, next door to the European Union.

The horrors of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina were immense. Scores of innocent civilians, and soldiers, were killed while others were injured or mutilated, and thousands left without close family and friends.

Yet what happened in Srebrenica was at first unspeakable, even if by now well-known to us now. Innocent men, including adolescent boys were taken away from their mothers, killed by the thousands in an organized and systematic manner. This was repulsive, unacceptable, and deeply unsettling! We will never forget this.

The world had already found the name for this criminality in 1951, by naming it genocide. Justice Meron has just given us an in-depth explanation of the background to that decision. It was coupled with a clear commitment: “never again”. Yet it happened – right here in Europe in 1995.

That is what Srebrenica means for Europe and for the international community at large: a disastrous failure. We need the remembrance of that failure to ensure that “never again”, this time around, will have true meaning. And we need to keep that in mind constantly, when thinking of the many abhorrent events in today’s world.

As the European Parliament stressed in its resolution of 14 April this year: “The timely prevention and effective punishment of genocides and crimes against humanity should be among the main priorities of the international community and the European Union.” That's clear enough.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, considerable efforts have been undertaken to prosecute cases of genocide as well as war crimes. While these efforts will never bring back the lives of those killed or alleviate the pain of families, especially the mothers and fathers, impunity is not an option and justice must prevail.

Accounting for war crimes is essential to overcome the divisions within a society and should deter anyone contemplating any kind of ethnic cleansing.

We all recognize the dedication and achievements of the judiciary of this country and I am pleased to see the State Prosecutor here today, as well as, of course, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in processing war crimes. We will hear much more on this throughout the conference today and tomorrow.

The European Union has continuously supported the criminal justice response, both internationally and here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we will continue to do so.

It is essential that there is sufficient capacity at a national level to pursue war crimes. And the Court and the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina have received substantial financial assistance from the EU. So has the International Commission for Missing Persons, in their impressive efforts at searching for and identifying missing souls.

A concrete example is the extraordinary budget support of nearly 15 million euros, provided by the EU to reinforce the capacities of the judiciary in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be able to process war crimes of which there is a great backlog. Through the Structured Dialogue on Justice, the EU has also put forward very concrete recommendations.

These include supporting regional cooperation in the processing of war crimes cases, streamlining challenges stemming from the application of different criminal codes in relation to human rights standards, addressing the backlog of war crimes cases, and protection and support to victims and witnesses, as well as others.

While much has been accomplished, the task is far from completed. We need to continue efforts to process war crimes cases, especially the cases transferred to the BiH judiciary from the ICTY. Wherever such cases are pending, it is not just a legal but also a moral and political obligation to move ahead and ensure a due process in all cases.

Too few cases are still being adjudicated and there are too many delays. We are almost twenty years after Srebrenica, and cannot afford to leave cases untouched or unfinished. Only by dealing with the past can doors be opened to the future.

Will this be enough to ensure a peaceful and prosperous common future for all people here in Bosnia and Herzegovina? I am not sure. To come to terms with the past, criminal justice is not sufficent. Victims need to be officially recognized and supported. And, crucially, people and the peoples of this country will need to face each other and speak truthfully about what happened and what was done.

As the European Parliament noted in the same resolution I have just cited from, “there can be no reconciliation without truth and remembrance”. We have had enough of revisionist history in Europe.

The authorities of Bosnia and Hercegovina have realized this need. They initiated a transitional justice strategy, which was completed in draft form in 2012. Since then, however, the plan has remained as a draft. And this is a plea here today, for all responsible authorities and all political representatives of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina: please put aside your individual concerns and daily political differences, and embrace reconciliation as a common and strategic goal for the whole country!

It will be uncomfortable and frustrating, but there is no other way. As a key step in that direction, the Transitional Justice Strategy should be revived and adopted without any delay.

To achieve genuine reconciliation no area can be left behind. Education, in particular, is essential. A serious reflection is needed over the current ethno-linguistic fragmentation of educational establishments and their curricula. Many students today are not only kept apart, because of differing curricula in key subjects, but they are often even strictly physically separated and prevented from contacts with their peers from the other communities.

Segregation does not work- history shows that, too.

The question we must then ask ourselves is : does such a system contribute to a positive change and long-term reconciliation, or does it cement and deepen existing divisions? I think the answer is clear, but it is up to you to make up your own mind.

Reconciliation after events as tragic as those here in Bosnia Herzegovina during the first half of the 1990s is difficult for any outsider to even imagine. Although I was here for part of that time, I and anyone else who was not here cannot imagine the pain and suffering endured without having been a part of it.

Reconciliation, as I said, should be a primary objective for the whole country and all the leaders. The leaders should lead, and not play politics with war crimes and genocide.

It is very encouraging that the Presidency has initiated a Dialogue for the Future, backed by international partners. To the same end, the EU is supporting a dialogue among the young and the strengthening of narratives of understanding in media.

While reconciliation might start with incentives from official places authorities, it can only be realized within society itself. This is why civil society organizations, as well as active individuals- courageous individuals, have an irreplaceable role. They can be instrumental in building a more tolerant and moderate society. An honest reflection of the painful past is needed to look into the future with positive expectations

The work of the regional initiative RECOM is vital, bringing together non-governmental organizations from all the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Yet, its outcomes still need more attention and needs to be embraced by political leaders and decision-makers.

I will once more use the language of the European Parliament: “one of the main motivations for the European unification movement is the will to prevent the recurrence of wars and crimes against humanity in Europe.”

The European project, as you all know, has its origins in World War II, the most barbaric conflict the world has ever witnessed. After the war, the peace was re-established, but its sustainability in the longer term posed a major challenge and a real risk.

People wanted something else – a new narrative.

They wanted something where war would simply become impossible as a result of unbreakable bonds and connections, transforming former arch-enemies into partners.

As one of the founding fathers of the European idea, Jean Monnet said: “there will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty, with its implications of prestige politics and economic protection…” This bold and unprecedented alternative vision aimed at the opposite of zero sum games between the countries.

The sharing of sovereignty among states, starting with the economy, including trade, energy and agriculture and progressing into other areas, is at the heart of the European Union.

It is not an exaggeration that the European peace project has been a success, a great success, within the European Union itself, although we have been unable to prevent war and conflicts on our borders outside the EU. Peace might have prevailed also without the European Union, but I wouldn't dare to say how it would have looked. With the European integration, this has become a certainty within the EU.

I see many encouraging developments here in Bosnia and Herzegovina – in its economy, society and politics. But I also see many signs remaining, unrelenting and even aggravating animosities and divisions, and let me be absolutely clear: this is not in the interest of anyone here in Bosnia and Herzegovina or outside of this country.

The model of water tight segregation is a model attempted over and over again in many places over the world, and it always failed. This is why the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is as a member of the European Union.

The EU has been extending a hand to Bosnia and Herzegovina since the recognition of its European perspective in 2003. So there is a long history already in our relations. The so-called ‘new EU initiative’ presents an opportunity to move forward after years of stalemate and put narrowly defined interests behind.

The initiative was seized upon by the Members of the Presidency, through all major political parties at all levels , and the elected representatives of the people in the Parliament by formulating and adopting a clear political commitment to the European future of Bosnia and Herzegovina earlier this year.

If Bosnia and Herzegovina decisively moves ahead on the EU integration path perspectives of future conflicts, war, mass atrocities or even genocide will gradually fade away. I say the prospects, but not the memories.
The choices made by Bosnia and Herzegovina as to which path it wants to follow will also have a broader significance. Not just for its own future, or the shape of its relations with the European Union but also with the rest of Europe, and in particular with its neighbours here in the Western Balkans.

If a country as complex as Bosnia and Herzegovina is successful in overcoming the legacy of war crimes, genocide and gross human rights violations – it will show that where there is a will, even the most difficult obstacles can be overcome. This country could even become a model to other countries.

In conclusion, I would like to extend my sympathies and personal support to the families of the victims of war crimes and genocide, let us remember that is why we are gathered here, many of you are here today and belong to the organisers of this event and I would like to thank you.